- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

From combined dispatches

NEW YORK The United States yesterday abstained on a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Israel stop its siege of Yasser Arafat's compound, thereby allowing the measure to go into force.

The U.N. resolution, approved early yesterday morning by the other 14 council members after 11 hours of negotiations, also called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure those responsible for terrorist acts were brought to justice.

Israel then defied the resolution by continuing its six-day siege of Mr. Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, prompting criticism from President Bush.

"We've got to end the suffering," Mr. Bush said in Washington. "I thought the actions the Israelis took were not helpful in terms of the establishment and development of the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge."

Unmoved, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said "no resolution, and no person, can take from us our exclusive right to defend our homes, our people."

Sporadic pro-Arafat demonstrations persisted throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, nine Palestinians died in an Israeli strike against factories and other targets.

The United States has killed similar U.N. resolutions in the past by using its veto power in the council.

But diplomats said Washington decided against doing so in order not to alienate Arab opinion during its campaign against Iraq.

"The resolution that we've adopted was flawed in our view in that it failed to explicitly condemn the terrorist groups and those who provide them with political cover, support and safe haven in perpetuating conflict in the Middle East," U.S. representative James Cunningham said.

The United States refused to vote for the resolution because it did not name the Syria-based Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups as responsible for bombings in Israel last week.

The text was negotiated by Britain and France, which sponsored it along with Bulgaria, Ireland and Norway.

It "demands that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure."

It also demands the "expeditious withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces" from Palestinian cities toward positions held prior to September 2000, the beginning of a Palestinian uprising that has cost more than 2,000 lives.

Palestinians took heart from the U.N. resolution.

Mr. Arafat released a statement praising it, and Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said it should be enforced, "because Israel is the champion of nations undermining Security Council resolutions and not implementing" them.

The standoff continued during the day, and both sides appeared to be digging in.

Telephone lines to the building were cut yesterday, Palestinians said, leaving Mr. Arafat and his aides with only cellular phones to communicate with the outside world. Israel's army denied any knowledge of the cut lines.

Israeli soldiers, tightly ringing Mr. Arafat's building with tanks, didn't allow visitors inside, but the military eased restrictions for reporters in the rest of Ramallah, letting them enter and leave town.

Ramallah's Palestinian residents were under curfew for a sixth day, but sporadic demonstrations were held anyway.

Several dozen Palestinians scuffled with Israeli soldiers at Manara Square in Ramallah, where earlier this week four pro-Arafat demonstrators were killed in clashes with troops.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Arafat absorbed his worst internal setback when the Palestinian legislature forced his Cabinet to resign, reflecting growing popular discontent with government mismanagement and the handling of the two years of violence with Israel.

But Mr. Arafat's popularity surged after Israeli forces wrecked his headquarters complex in Ramallah on Thursday, a move prompted by two suicide bombings that killed seven persons in Israel.

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